Responding to the Scottish Budget statement today, Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce said:

“The measures set out in the Scottish Budget will create some limited breathing room for firms in the North-east. Extending the key rates relief for retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation sectors was a core ask of Chamber members, but it is painfully clear that three months of additional relief will only scratch the surface of the support needed by these sectors to rebuild post-pandemic.

“As Chambers of Commerce have already done so across Scotland and the UK we continue to call on the Chancellor to make an early commitment to extending these key rates reliefs until March 2022 and for the Scottish Government to make good on its pledge to pass this relief on in full in response. Chambers have made similar calls on the furlough scheme – it must be extended until July.

“On wider business rates policy, while we welcome the poundage reduction, this does little to address the systemic unfairness in rateable values affecting the North-east of Scotland, and we still believe strongly that further action is needed to address business rates bills across Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire.

“While we continue to hear from our member businesses that the level of grants fails to match outgoings, we welcome the decision to hold grants at Level 4 weightings throughout February and the expansion the discretionary business support fund for local authorities to provide much needed assistance to those firms falling through the gaps of the mainstream support schemes.

“Recent data continues to highlight that the North-east of Scotland has faced a disproportionate decline in employment due to the pandemic and so we welcome a continued focus on jobs, particularly green jobs. While the Chamber welcomes investment in our region through initiatives like the Energy Transition Fund, the Scottish Government must continue to engage pragmatically with our region and the oil and gas sector to ensure that government policy supports a Just Transition for the North-east.

“Although this budget sets out some temporary respite, for many businesses without further action this short reprieve will simply be a stay of execution. We repeat our calls for the Scottish Government to urgently publish a routemap which sets out the process and timelines for the re-opening of our economy. We are rightly in a race to vaccinate the population rapidly to protect public health, but we must be under no illusions that we are also in race to save thousands of businesses across the UK.

“The Centre for Economic Performance recently suggested that up to 900,000 small businesses, accounting for 2.5 million jobs, are at risk of imminent closure in the first few months of the year. We must make progress on suppressing the virus and re-opening the economy, or we risk a wave of business failures and a much harder journey to rebuild our economy in the years to come.”

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